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So You Think You Can Blog, Katie Neville?

We challenged America to submit to be the IMA’s next top blogger and America answered.  Over the course of the last month, we’ve posted the finalists in the IMA’s “So You Think You Can Blog” contest. Next week and for the entire month of March, we’ll let our blog readers vote for the winner. This week: Meet Katie Neville.

Hi IMA!  I would love to be your guest blogger for 2010.  I’m a twenty something single woman living in Broad Ripple and working in Carmel.  I have a B.A. in Art History from Indiana University.  Enough about me, I already feel like I’m writing a profile on some online dating site, on with my story…

I’ve tasted Art…

A few years back and fresh out of college I was in Chicago training for a new job.  On my first day off I ditched my fellow trainees, hopped a train and headed for the Art Institute of Chicago. I was really excited to explore the museum and see some of the very famous works the Art Institute has.  It did not disappoint!

I was thinking, this is what it is all about, I’m finally out of the classroom and out here experiencing Art.

Even Artists who exclusively work in 2D use texture, scale and subtle tone to express emotion, mood or whatever it may be that they wish to convey. It is impossible to really understand a work of Art merely by seeing a snapshot of it.  Hearing someone lecture about a slide on a screen can only get you so far.  Knowing this I was stoked to be bowled over by Van Goghs, Seurats, Rothkos, and others.  But I was wholly unprepared for what happened when I walked into one gallery in the contemporary wing, and met an artwork that was far from 2D.

I quite literally stumbled right into the middle of a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

He was most famous for installations where he laid wrapped candy pieces out on the floor of a space.  Little, brightly wrapped, butterscotch, mint, and strawberry candies glitter on the floors of galleries all over the world.  So simple, you could walk right past it, with only thoughts of Willy Wonka, or Halloween crossing your mind as you pass on to the next painting or sculpture.

Torres’ installation at the Art Institute of Chicago is laid out in the shape of a rectangle, and it begins at 175 lbs of candy.  I say begins, because some visitors don’t just pass by the piece with a smile, humming “Umpa Loompa Umpadi Do”. Some visitors linger, read the wall plaque, and find that they have been invited to actually take a piece of candy.  Some people do, and the rectangular pile of candy dwindles.

I had learned all about Torres in college and knew that I was to take a piece of candy- in fact in order to fully experience the piece I should take the candy.  Still, after years of being told to stay back from Art, to never get close enough to breathe on a work of Art let alone actually touch one, I felt a little odd about literally taking a sample of one.  I was clearly not the only person who felt this way because even with the explicit prompt many people couldn’t bring themselves to kneel down and take a piece of candy.  One lady even turned to me and asked if we were really allowed to  “steal” a piece.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA)," 1991

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA)," 1991

Okay, so I must admit, I took two chunks, one I put in my pocket (I still have it), and one I unwrapped and stuck in my mouth.Torres’ piece at the Art Institute is called “Untitled, A Portrait of Ross” and it was created in 1991. Torres’ lover was named Ross, and before he died in 1991 of A.I.D.S. related complications he was a healthy 175lbs.

Suddenly, Torres’ simple pile of candy wasn’t simple any longer.  As a representation of the Man, Ross, the piece would have been beautiful and emotive, but then to add the layer of physically participating in a symbol of Ross’ tragic end it was near magic.  I could have stayed in the gallery all day watching people interact with Torres’ work, because as I watched I came to the realization that the reaction of the viewers- no not viewers- the participants, was part of the artwork too.

I stood there in that gallery sucking on that deliciously sweet lemon candy with tears streaming down my face.  Torres wanted people to take little bits of candy away to represent how A.I.D.S. slowly took little bits of Ross away from him.  By taking a piece (two pieces) myself I had participated in the wasting away of that pile of candy. It made me feel a little guilty.   Then I remembered that I was experiencing the short joy of the candy itself and it made me enjoy it all the more.  I took a deep breath and walked into the next gallery with that sweet taste still lingering.

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